4 Things You Need to Know About the Holy Spirit’s Being and Nature
What is the Holy Spirit? Who is the Holy Spirit? How does the Spirit do things? And what does the Spirit do?
Having come from an evangelical tradition that emphasized the Father and the Son at the expense of the Spirit, answers to these questions were mostly AWOL. In fact, it seems such is the case of evangelicalism broadly: a recent survey found 51% say the Holy Spirit isn’t a personal being, but a force. Only 42% affirm the 3rd person of the Trinity is a person.
In The Holy Spirit Christopher Holmes rectifies this confusion by providing concrete answers about the Holy Spirit’s identity, origin, and acts. It is the inaugural volume in the new New Studies in Dogmatics series that aims to retrieve the riches of classical Christian doctrine for the sake of contemporary theological renewal.
Leveraging insights from Augustine, Aquinas, and Barth, Holmes offers a contemporary, cogent resource that “unfolds the divinity of the Spirit in relation to the Father and the Son in the inner life of God” and "the works of God and of God’s Spirit [that] come from that inner life.” (29)
His work reveals four important aspects about the Holy Spirit’s being and nature. Aspects many evangelicals misunderstand.
1) The Spirit’s Economy Reflects God’s Essence
Holmes contends God's essential nature is expressed in his outward acts: “God’s inner life is encountered, revealed, and disclosed in God’s outward life, God’s saving acts.” (20) He continues:
God’s life is pure act, a life in which the Son is begotten of the Father in a perpetual eternity, the Spirit comes forth or proceeds as love of the Father for the Son and the Son for the Father from eternity. Talk of what God does, which is the basis for how God is known, has a foundation. That foundation has to do with the being of God. (22)
Though contemporary theology tends to focus exclusively on what God does, Holmes insists Scripture also encourages us to speak of what and how God is. The Spirit’s activity as much as the Son’s reveals this inner life.
2) The Spirit is Other-Directed
Holmes speaks about the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of Christ, for “the Spirit is other-directed, Christ-directed.” This isn’t to say he is subsumed within or subordinated to Christ, but that he “demonstrates profound boldness in promoting another, Jesus Christ.” (22)
He also works on behalf of the Church as the Christ-directed Spirit: “The Spirit who gathers to Christ is constantly working to grow the community of Christ. The Spirit sends out those gathered to Jesus to witness to Jesus’ work of promoting his own environment.” (23)
This is an important facet of Holmes’s approach, for he argues, “The Spirit never departs from the Son. The Spirit works tirelessly in the economy of grace to expand the community of those baptized into the Son, the living Lord Jesus.” (22)
3) The Spirit’s Acts Expresses 'Who' and 'How' He Is
Key to Holmes’s main idea are two crucial points: the Spirit's procession and mission. First, that he proceeds is an essential characteristic of the Spirit:
The three are who they are, and indeed ordered to each in the way that they are, by virtue of their relations of origin to one another…That they have different characteristics and act differently from one to another has to do with their origins. (26, 27)
Likewise the Spirit’s immanent identity is revealed in his mission in the world: “the Spirit’s empowering of the Hebrew prophets, his filling of Jesus, and his indwelling of Jesus’ people says much about who he eternally is in relation to the Father and the Son as their love and gift.” (28)
4) The Spirit Is the Subject and Agent of the Spiritual Life
“Theology’s vocation,” writes Holmes, “is to learn to hear that ‘all things’ have indeed been given into the Son’s hands. Included in the ‘all things’ is the Spirit whose witness is true.” (32) Which is why deepening one’s understanding of the Spirit is so crucial.
He maintains that theology’s goal is to increase the spiritual life and attain a foretaste of “beatific contemplation,” which is eternal happiness. It is the Spirit himself who teaches and offers such a life:
Scripture teaches us of the Spirit so as to point to Christ, who unites us with that same Spirit. The Spirit makes us happy, here in this life and without interruption or end in the life of the world to come. The regenerated life, the spiritual life, is the happy life. (32)
The Holy Spirit will broaden and deepen your understanding of the essence and existence of the Third Person of the Trinity. Holmes hopes his resource will also “facilitate a spiritual vision whereby one is reborn into" the happy life. (32)
Engage it yourself to help the people you teach understand the Holy Spirit’s identity, origin, and acts, and grasp his significance for their spiritual life.
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